Young Anthropologist Award


This competition, for students aged 16 to 18, challenges you to ‘think like an anthropologist’ in describing your own experiences of culture.

You are asked to write 1,000 words about when you experienced ‘culture shock’. What did you experience regarding a new way of doing things, and what did that show you about your own culture?

The essay can cover any kind of culture shock – from the shock of adjusting to a new school, or to life in another country – this is entirely up to you.

The winner will receive a £1,000 prize and there will be four runners-up, who will each receive £50.

What is Culture Shock?

‘Culture shock’ is an idea popularised by Roy Wagner, who argued that encounters with a new culture can be shocking, as we are exposed to new ways of doing things that we otherwise take for granted. This might be the shock of starting in a new school, or moving to a new city; it might be an experience of a sporting event, an encounter abroad, or just dinner at a friend’s house.

New social rules, and new ways of doing things, can be overwhelming. Through reflection, these experiences can teach us about this new culture, but also about our own. By exploring what shocked us we become aware of what we had taken for granted.

Goldsmiths Anthropology Lecturer Gavin Weston speaks about his own experience of Culture Shock:

“My most profound, bodily experience of culture shock came when I was 18 and backpacking around the world following my A-levels. Arriving in Mumbai was discombobulating but great – but when I headed to Goa and was staying in a guest house it was the toilet that really did it for me.

“As I went to use a squat toilet I was fine and about to go, then I heard an excited grunting, and I turned and saw snouts near the opening behind me. The toilet was designed with the intention of pigs gaining instant edible gratification from poop. My body rebelled against this new way of doing things to such an extent that I couldn’t s**t for two days.

“By the time I did I was in tune with the world around me – the cold porcelain and water-wasting sanitation of my upbringing now made as much or as little sense as a pig toilet.

“In the days that followed as I talked with the guest house owners about topics spanning from religion through to the relative price of everything (in a context where haggling was the norm) I fell in love with the experience of culture shock and I blame this experience entirely for me becoming an anthropologist.”

What to do next?

To receive information about the award, please complete expression of interest form below, and we'll be in touch. 

In order to be eligible for this competition, you must:

  • Be a UK resident
  • Be aged between 16 and 18 on the 31 July 2019
  • Submit your entry by 23:59 on 31 July 2019 (GMT)